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COVID-19: Living and Working Through Times of Crisis

By Erin Hendricks
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Our teams share their advice on maintaining your wellbeing in high-pressure situations

For many of us, the outbreak of COVID-19 has brought with it new fears about our safety and health, the wellbeing of our family, as well as anxiety about food, our jobs and financial insecurity. These fears might be a new experience for many of us, but for some of our colleagues, who live and work in high risk places like Kabul, Tripoli or Gaza, dealing with high-stress, dangerous situations and operating under times of crisis is part of daily life.

A number of our remarkable staff have decided the humanitarian cause and making a difference is a priority to them, and so instead of returning home have remained in the field to ensure aid can still be delivered during this difficult time.

Now more than ever we need to support and encourage our peers, and truly be ‘Committed to Good’. Here, CTG staff who work and live in conflict zones share their words of encouragement for people dealing with the stress of the current situation.

Natasha Whitelaw,

Country Manager,

Libya

Natasha is from Australia and has been working in the development and humanitarian community for five years. Libya is a new work environment for her having previously worked in Somalia.

What do you do to manage your own stress, mental health, and wellbeing living in a hardship area?

Libya is a challenging environment to operate in. The country is experiencing a civil war, with fighting concentrated in Tripoli, restricting people’s freedom of movement and creating a stressful environment. Added to this are concerns about COVID-19, with the first official case just announced in Libya and the questions about the country’s health care system’s capacity to deal with multiple severe cases.

To manage my stress during times like these, I make sure I have a good routine including regular sleep, eating healthy, nutritious meals, connecting with family and doing some exercise. I like to practice yoga (I have a teacher friend who does online classes) and I also like Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube, which is good for those who want a fun approach to yoga.

I make sure that I do things I enjoy every week, like playing board games. As I’m currently under lockdown, we have found a website that allows us to play some of our favourite games. I like playing Wingspan (the only boardgame in the world designed by an all-female team) and another called Scythe, which is rather complicated and even after about six games, I am still learning.

Listening to music is another way to unwind. I have very eclectic music tastes. I tend to like songs rather than specific genres of music. Current obsessions are Lost on You by LP (the live session) and anything by Stormzy; I’m a bit obsessed after I saw him perform last August.

What is your advice about keeping operations going in times of crisis?

This can be really hard when you are stressed and have difficulty focusing. I remind myself of my core motivations, which is helping others. To achieve this, I make sure I clearly identify the most important priorities and focus on those. Having clear tasks and objectives to set my mind to can be really helpful in distracting me from everything else that is going on. I also focus on my team, checking in to make sure everyone is okay, letting them know I am there to support them.

What tips could you share on looking after other people in the community during times of crisis?

I do a daily check-in with family, friends and members of my team to see how they are feeling and whether there is anything I can do to support them. This helps to create a routine, which is often missing during a time of crisis and lets people know that I care about their health and well-being.

Mahmoud Shehada,

Senior Account Manager,

Gaza

Mahmoud was born in Gaza and lives with his wife and children. When he was younger, he relocated abroad but decided to move back to Gaza permanently a few years later to be with his extended family.

What is your advice about keeping operations going in times of crisis?

When living and working in a crisis area like Gaza, loss, conflict, uncertainty, loneliness, health challenges, and financial strain are all constant worries. Although these worries are facts of life for us, we try hard not to let it overwhelm us or keep us stuck in ways of thinking and behaving that interfere with our health, happiness, and ability to meet our life goals.

It is essential to understand how to behave during a crisis; for example, in Gaza when we deal with a disruptive, unexpected event that threatens to harm us or the organisation, we implement crisis avoidance, crisis mitigation and crisis recovery processes. We work from home as opposed to going into the office and make sure to keep in touch with each other.

What do you do to manage your own stress, mental health, and wellbeing living in a hardship area?

You can generate inner calm, build healthy lifestyle habits, and facilitate clear thinking to sustain you for the long haul. I would recommend self-help techniques, which may help you reduce your level of stress, provide positive feelings of control and promote general wellbeing. Other stress-reducing techniques involve adding a daily exercise routine, spending quality time with family, meditation, finding a hobby, and writing your thoughts, feelings, and moods down.

Anthony Jouannic,

Deputy Country Manager,

South Sudan

Anthony’s entry into humanitarian aid began with Doctors without Borders. He has experience working in Iraq, Congo (DRC), Cameroon and South Sudan. In his free time, he completes ultra-trail runs, hikes, kayaks, and skis. He also enjoys photography, reading and drawing.

What do you do to manage your own stress, mental health, and well-being living in a hardship area? 

I disconnect completely from work and have some “me time”. I run a lot – 40 to 100 kms a week at least. I run at the UN compound circuit which is 5kms, and I repeat the circuit a few times. When it gets boring, I run through the city and can easily do 15kms.

Always try to put yourself in their head. Everyone is different and everyone responds to things differently.

I used to run 10 kms a day on a treadmill when I was working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and not able to leave the compound. Currently there are movement restrictions because of COVID-19, but usually there aren’t restrictions for CTG employees. If you have restricted movements, try training workouts like “Insanity”, a daily 40-minute online training guide with a coach which is well known in the humanitarian world. In many humanitarian hubs there are also football and volleyball groups to join.

What tips could you share on looking after other people in your community during times of crisis? 

Always try to put yourself in their head. Everyone is different and everyone responds to things differently. Also, you don’t know what they are going through personally. Small attentions make the difference. Taking the time to share praise for the work they’re doing or a word of understanding, can give people the motivation to continue despite the challenges faced daily.

What is your advice about keeping operations going in times of crisis?

Stick to a routine and have different spaces in your home for work, rest and leisure. Step outside for a few minutes of fresh air whenever you can – it’s important to keep your mind positive with whatever small things you can do. Ensure that you video chat with your friends and loved ones as much as possible in the evenings – this will help alleviate the pressure within any crisis. Lastly, remember to keep to your normal work hours as much as possible; i.e. eat lunch when you normally would at work, and shut off when you would normally shut off from work. Don’t continue to work into the late night just because you can, you must switch off and recharge.

Maintain a positive attitude and accept that there are events that you cannot control.

– Night Valeriano Odera Oneck, Data Klerk, South Sudan

It’s important to remember that without our support, most beneficiaries and communities will not be able to sustain themselves or their families.  

       – Abdirizaq Rashid Hassan, Senior Monitor and Programme Coordinator, Somalia

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